What is your job at the Ministry of National Development?
I'm focused on the push to keep Singapore as a city in the garden. We started off many years ago as a garden city, but "the city in the garden" is not just a play on words but literally a change in thinking.
In the early years, we focused on issues of survival, on existence. Housing, roofs... But we have some space (now) to focus more on issues of soul, of spirit, issues that make Singaporeans cherish what we have as home. We are talking more in terms of building homes, communities, living spaces, as opposed to infrastructure and amenities.
I'm also working on heritage issues. In the past, we had no problem with protecting places of national significance, like City Hall. But increasingly, people might feel a bit disoriented if the pace of change is such that they lose a building, a school, or a corner of an estate that they hold personally dear to themselves.
For example, Rulang Primary School in Jurong West (Mr Lee's constituency) is a place with 80 years of history, set up by villagers with their own funds for their children. It was re-sited a long time ago, but they still cherish very fond memories, and I asked them if they would consider finding the former location and placing a marker, so that alumni and future generations will know how the school started.
Finding innovative ways to allow people to retain personal memories in a way that will balance the needs of development for the wider population of Singaporeans: that is the challenge. How to retain a sense of place and the memories that go with that, in the pace of change that we have here.
Many see the Government as not on the side of conservation.
That is a narrative that comes from a particular angle. But I think you have to look at it from what we are actually doing on the ground, and what more we can do. It's not really a case where it's polar opposite demands of on the one hand, you must develop, and on the other hand, you must conserve. We want to do both. It's not an easy line to tread. We must find new and innovative ways to do so. We must take time. The process will be slower than in the early days when development moved faster.